Three Simple Questions about Brexit & NATO for Y’s Men of Westport and Wise People Elsewhere

Our Y’s Men of Westport/Westin (CT) and its Current Affairs Discussion Group has decided that the focus of its next meeting will be Brexit (British exit from the European Union) and the future of NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization).

The Y’s Men umbrellas a group of 400 or so retired men who meet weekly for fellowship and informative programs on community and national concerns. Its clever name comes from some association with the YMCA that has never been clearly explained to me.

In any case, one of the Y’s Men’s many subgroups meets bi-weekly to discuss world issues precisely like Brexit and NATO. That topic was chosen because at the time of its selection, NATO was holding its 70th anniversary meeting in London.  Meanwhile, Great Britain was looking forward to a General Election on December 12th, which would once again centralize the Brexit issue.

In preparation for the meeting, the leader of the Current Affairs Group shared numerous articles with us. One was entitled “12 Questions about Brexit You Were Too Embarrassed to Ask.” Others were drawn mainly from the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist.  They detailed further information about Great Britain’s attempt to withdraw from the international trade agreement known as the European Union. Other articles asked the question whether or not NATO should or should not be dissolved.

As it turns out, both issues are intimately connected with questions of borders and immigration. After all, the European Union has virtually erased borders across the continent to facilitate what it terms its “four freedoms.” These include free movement of goods, services, capital, and people. Meanwhile NATO is also and obviously a multinational body. In fact, it treats member states as one. According to its central policy, an attack on any single member is considered an attack on all.

So, with those two issues in mind (borders and immigration) let me pose three questions related to Brexit and NATO. They are intended not only for Westport’s Y’s Men, but for thoughtful people in general.

Here are the questions:

  1. Are you in favor of absolutely open borders for people?
  2.  Are you in favor of absolutely open borders for multinational corporations (MNCs) and/or military operations?
  3. What’s the connection between Brexit and borders on the one hand and NATO on the other?

Open Borders for People

So, what about immigration and open borders? Should foreign workers be allowed to cross unrestrictedly from one country to another as they currently are under the European Union rubric?

To this question, I’m quite confident that most people’s initial answer would probably be “no.”

At least that’s what 52% of Great Britain’s voting population said last March when asked whether or not their country should remain within the European Union. By most accounts, disapproval of the Union’s policy of unrestricted immigration lay behind the votes of those approving exit from the EU.

That’s because open borders in Europe have led to massive relocations of population across frontiers that were closed in the pre-EU world. Such migrations especially intensified “foreign” presence in Great Britain whose borders had already long been open to immigrants from the country’s former colonies, e.g. India and Pakistan.  Add to these the climate and war victims who have also found refuge in Europe in general including Great Britain, and you’ll begin to understand why many there might rashly blame their growing sense of lost national identity exclusively on the European Union. Boris Johnson has given voice to such discontent.

And all of that stands to reason, doesn’t it?  That’s true even for those of us who (unlike the British) have not actually experienced free movement of people from one country to another. We can hardly imagine a world without passports, visas, or government control of entry or exit. It all sounds like a recipe for anarchy and chaos.

In our context, it would mean, for instance, that low wage workers could enter the United States and take our jobs. Our way of life would be completely upended. Our culture would be profoundly and unacceptably altered as well.

No, I’d venture to say that open borders are completely unacceptable to most of us.  That’s why conservatives can get away with constantly ridiculing opponents of Mr. Trump’s border wall as advocating “open borders.” Life without borders simply doesn’t make sense. It’s clearly threatening to most Americans. And it’s largely the lived experience of open borders that has driven Great Britain out of the European Union.

Open Borders for MNCs

Yet despite our objections to free movement of people, most of us take for granted open borders for transnational corporations. We do and so does Mr. Trump! So, I’m quite confident in predicting that the answer of most Y’s Men to my second question would be “yes” — at least implicitly. “Yes, I approve of free movement of capital from one country to another. And yes, (in the case of NATO) I approve of attacks on other countries even though those forays pay no attention to borders.” Or (perhaps more accurately) the “wise” response might be: “Well, I’ve never thought about that.”

The latter response comes from the fact that on the face of it and for most of us, the movement of capital and of armies seems somehow harmlessly abstract and less devastating than the unrestricted movement of people. Moreover, we’re taught that treaties like the EU, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), CAFTA (Central American Free Trade Agreement) and the proposed TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Area) are good for us because they create jobs. So, why not allow transnational companies like Exxon, Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Ford Motor, Kennecott Mining, Weyerhaeuser Lumber, Ralston Purina, and Del Monte to cross borders freely?

The answer to that query comes loud and clear especially from the Global South – from indigenous tribes, Mexicans, Hondurans, Guatemalans, or Salvadorans. They shout: “Free movement of capital is far more devastating to us than you’ve experienced in the European Union or imagine in North America. Free movement of capital destroys more jobs than it creates. It’s the main reason behind what you describe as your ‘immigration crisis.’”

Their evidence? Mom and Pop stores are driven out of business by Wal-Mart. Millions of campesino farmers are forced off their land when, for instance, Ralston Purina lobbyists persuade the U.S. government to dump subsidized corn on the Mexican market. The displaced farmers are forced off the land and driven into urban slums. Food consumption patterns are altered by McDonalds. Indigenous tribes have burial sites dug up and defiled by Exxon’s oil pipelines. Rain forests are cut down indiscriminately by Weyerhaeuser regardless of the impact on ecosystems and climate. Entire ways of living and interacting with nature and community are disrupted and thrown into chaos.

But that’s not the end of the devastation wreaked by the open borders most of us take for granted. NATO and its de facto leader, the U.S. military, demonstrate little to no respect for borders either. Think about it. Despite international laws to the contrary, those military entities claim the right to indiscriminately cross national frontiers to bomb and drone wherever they see fit — and without the required approval of the United Nations. In the recent past they’ve done so on a large scale in the former Yugoslavia, as well as in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Ethiopia. We don’t even know where they’re bombing; borders make no difference to them.

And the chaos produced by such disregard of borders is unbelievable.  As its result, homes, schools, hospitals, churches, synagogues, mosques, stores, warehouses, factories, water, sewage, and communication systems lay in ruins across the planet.

The NATO Connection

But what’s the connection between all of this and NATO?  The short answer is that a disbanded NATO represents a source of funding for remedying the just noted deficiencies of free trade agreements like the EU, NAFTA, CAFTA, and TAFTA.  

To begin with, those defects can only be remedied satisfactorily by democratizing them to protect jobs, cultures, and local social values. And that will cost a lot of money. That’s because true reform demands that all stakeholders (not merely corporate representatives, lawyers, bureaucrats, and politicians) be present at the renegotiating conference table. This includes trade unionists, environmentalists, and groups representing the specific rights of indigenous peoples, women and children. All those affected must have equal voice and vote. Nothing else will work. Nothing else is just.

Yet, if all stakeholders have voice and vote, they will predictably complicate matters. (Democracy, remember, is messy.) Predictably, they’ll make demands that will radically restrain the freedoms of the corporations involved – even to the point of rendering unworkable the type of trade pacts we’ve come to know.

For instance, (and perhaps most crucially) workers in places not only like Greece and Italy, but in Mexico and Central America will require the same freedom their employers enjoy to move to where the money is. Developed world workers will demand compensation for their lost jobs. Everyone will vote for the unrestricted right to unionize. They’ll want seats on corporate boards of directors. At the same time, environmentalists will demand industrial technology that is clean and non-polluting. They’ll want waste and chemical dumps along with polluted rivers and aqua firs repaired. Those whose towns, homes, churches, schools, and hospitals have been destroyed by NATO wars will want them rebuilt. They’ll demand compensation for the needless deaths caused by the bombs, drones, planes, tanks, and military personnel employed in the service of corporate-friendly trade pacts.

Again, all of that will take money – lots of it!

And the source of the money should be NATO. It must be dissolved. And its annual funding must be diverted to meet the working class demands just listed.

After all, the organization has outlived its usefulness. Its enemies have disappeared. The Soviet Union (the very raison d’etre for NATO) vanished 30 years ago. Moreover, announcements that the Russians are coming once again and that a new Yellow Peril is on the horizon are nearly laughable.

In fact, when those threats are examined, they turn out to be only pale reflections of standard practices the United States has engaged in since the conclusion of the Second Inter-capitalist War.

Take Russia first. Its “crimes” include:

  • Interference in the 2016 U.S. elections
  • Alleged cyber-attacks
  • Dissemination of “fake news”
  • Aggression against the Ukraine
  • Annexation of Crimea

China’s alleged threat is represented by:

  • Its repression of democracy in Hong Kong
  • Its attempts to take over the world through its Belt and Road Initiative
  • “Stealing” intellectual property of U.S. corporations
  • Its jailing of Uighurs and other Muslim minorities

To repeat: “crimes” like those have been central (and on much larger scales) to United States policy for the past 75 years and more.

For instance, since 1823 under the Monroe Doctrine, the United States has routinely claimed the right to intervene militarily in its “backyard” (all of Latin America) whenever it perceives any undue foreign influence in the region. All during the 1980s, the U.S. invoked Monroe to counter Russian influence in Central America.

Yet, the U.S. insists that Russian military action in the Ukraine and Crimea (which arguably remain parts of Russia) is a threat to world peace. And this even though the new leadership in Ukraine promises to seek membership in NATO in clear violation of a 1990 agreement that the alliance would not expand eastward. In fact, NATO bases currently surround Russia. If the U.S. claims Monroe Doctrine protection for itself, logic demands honoring parallel claims by Russia.

Similarly, immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union, the United States interfered in the Russian electoral process to ensure that Boris Yeltsin would be elected president there. And U.S. interference in electoral processes world-wide is beyond dispute.

The bottom line here is that Russia is only doing in its backyard what the United States has long practiced in its own backyard and across the world.

The case is similar with the alleged Chinese threat. Remember, Hong Kong is not in China’s backyard; it is indisputably part of China itself. Moreover, if the U.S. and its NATO allies were implementing their own Belt and Road Initiative, they would be trumpeting it as an example of their generosity and openhanded foreign aid.

As for China’s alleged stealing of intellectual property . . . As Vijay Prashad has noted, such ownership is a fiction concocted by industrially developed countries to guarantee that their former colonies will remain in situations of extreme dependence and relative poverty. The concept of intellectual property ignores the essentially communal nature of human knowledge. For instance, concepts foundational to modern science (such as the links between the Vedic zero in the east and imaginary numbers in the west) are part of the world’s intellectual commons. To pretend otherwise itself constitutes an act of intellectual larceny.

In fact, reverse engineering has long been the backbone of industrial development everywhere in the world including the United States as it strove during the 19th century to catch up with its European competitors. It is inevitable that workers and states will attempt to understand and replicate rather than purchase the technology they are asked to operate.

Conclusion

With all of the foregoing said about trade agreements, military spending and the artificially manufactured threats posed by Russia and China, it now becomes possible to recognize that the Global North has no enemies. And in turn, that realization frees up huge caches of money already there, allocated, and set for diversion towards correcting the defects of so-called free trade agreements – even like the European Union.

The money’s to be found in the NATO budget; it’s also there in Pentagon allocations.  (In fact, just last week, the U.S. Congress set aside more than $2 billion each day for military purposes, even though the prime reason for doing so has completely disappeared from the world stage.)

So, the answers to my original questions might well be these:

  1. No:  Immigrants should not be allowed to move unrestrictedly from one country to another
  2. Unless that freedom is extended to MNCs. Or to reverse the assertion: MNCs should not be allowed to move unrestrictedly from one country to another unless labor is accorded the same freedom.
  3. A disbanded and now pointless NATO can provide any funds necessary for democratizing otherwise one-sided trade pacts like the European Union, NAFTA, CAFTA, and TAFTA.

Do you agree?

Borders Are for Poor Suckers Like Us, Never for the Rich: Tear Down That Wall!

Borders

Isn’t it interesting how the world’s richest 1% have managed to convince most among us that the world’s poorest 1% are responsible for all of our problems? These days, they have us talking about almost nothing else.

Yes, billionaires like Donald Trump and his effete allies in D.C. have pulled “the immigrant problem” completely out of the air. And they’ve done it precisely to paper over the fact that they themselves, not the poor, are the cause of our genuinely distressing economic and social problems. It’s all a familiar diversionary tactic to keep us from seeing how the rich are screwing us over every single day.

Think about it. What troubles us aren’t immigrants and refugees who are somehow alien. Hell, if we’re not Native Americans, every one of us comes from immigrant (not to say “invader”) stock or from slaves brought here against their wills by immigrants. Every one of us!

No, our problems are persistent low wages, the emergence of the gig-economy, withdrawal of worker benefits, destruction of unions, police brutality towards people of color, lack of decent health care, deteriorating infrastructure, underfunded schools, impoverishing student debt, disappearance of retirement prospects, a bloated military budget, the threat of nuclear war, climate change denial, voter suppression, mass imprisonment of non-violent offenders, and a nation-wide drug problem induced by Big Pharma.

That’s the short list of our country’s real dilemmas. They are caused by the filthy rich who give themselves the very tax breaks that rob our common treasury and necessitate the austerity measures the wealthy prescribe for the rest of us.

Nonetheless, those plutocrats want us to take our eyes off that particular ball. Instead, they’d have us believe that the very refugees whose homes and jobs, schools and hospitals have been destroyed by the one-percent’s endless wars in the Middle East are somehow attacking the rest of us. Similarly-guilty, they say, are those fleeing the chaos and gang violence produced by the illegal counter-revolutionary wars waged by “our” country in Central America throughout the 1980s. The same for simple Mexican farmers displaced by NAFTA provisions favoring U.S. corn over locally-produced maize; that’s what’s made them poor and jobless.

As a result, all of those just mentioned – victims of our unjust wars and one-sided trade policies – along with their children, have been excluded from entry to the U.S. whose borders, our “leaders” tell us are somehow sacrosanct as if created by God. So, (we are told) we must pay for a multi-billion-dollar wall to exclude the victims the billionaires have created and characterized as rapists, gang-members, drug dealers, and criminals.

Thing is: borders are completely arbitrary; they’re fictions the rich would have the rest of us worship, while they pay them no mind. That’s another thing to think about.

In historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.

The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was accessing the resources of the areas in question. So, they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.

But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.

Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.

In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. As a result, their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista – a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.

Nevertheless, 170 years later President Trump wants to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by building a wall along this relatively new line of separation. His argument is that borders are holy, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about his rich confreres’ attitude towards borders.

So, let’s consider that second point.

Fact is: The rich disrespect borders in two principal ways, one questionably “legal” and the other completely otherwise.

So-called legal border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus, capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts.

Meanwhile, workers (the second equally key factor in the capitalist equation) who are impoverished by “free trade” enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be inviolable, even though the boundaries prevent them from imitating the rich by serving their own economic interests – in their case, by emigrating to wherever the availability of good wages dictates.

Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard at work here. So, they defiantly cross borders without permission.

The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people wherever and whenever they wish, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that same right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts, because they consider the wealthy’s bombing raids and drone operations as “terrorism.”) Let’s face it: in the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless – for the rich.

The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from their destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?

I’ll say it again: in the eyes of Mr. Trump, borders are for suckers and poor working stiffs, not for people like him.

The truth is, however, that borders should be the same for everyone, regardless of wealth and power. If capital has the right to disregard borders, so should labor. If the workers cannot cross them, neither should rich investors.

Mr. Trump, tear down that wall!

Trump’s Border Wall: It’s Land Theft, Exploitation & Murder Solidified in Concrete & Steel

Reagan wall

President Trump’s pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border raises two interesting questions about borders themselves and about border crossings:

  1. Why do the rich consider borders sacred when poor people cross them without permission?
  2. And why do those same rich not consider national boundaries sacred when they cross them even against international law?

First consider borders themselves. They are completely arbitrary.

I mean, in historical perspective, current demarcation lines dividing countries are totally artificial and changeable. Many of them, for instance in Africa and the Middle East, were drawn up in a field tent by basically ignorant imperial generals.

The colonial outsiders’ overriding interest was stealing the resources of the areas in question. So they formed alliances with local chiefs, called them “kings” of their new “nations,” and drew those lines I mentioned describing the area the nouveau royalty would govern.

But the colonial conquerors did so without knowledge of traditional tribal habitats, shared languages, or blood connections between families their random lines separated. As a result, from the viewpoint of the groups divided, the problem with borders is not that people cross them, but that the borders cross peoples.

Closer to home, that ironic crossing phenomenon is best illustrated in the cases of Texas, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. Before 1848, all those states were part of Mexico. Then following the Mexican-American War (1846-’48), the U.S. border crossed Mexicans in those new states and they suddenly became foreigners in what previously had been their own country.

In 1848, ordinary Mexicans viewed the entire process as highway robbery. So their descendants often speak of contemporary Mexican migration to “America” as a Reconquista – a justified re-conquest of lands stolen from their forebears.

Nevertheless, 170 years later President Trump wants to solidify America’s unlawful annexation of huge swaths of Mexico by building a wall along this relatively new line of separation. His argument is that borders are sacred, and that people who cross them are “illegals” and criminal. But that just raises questions about his rich confreres’ attitude towards borders.

So let’s consider that second point.

Fact is: The rich disrespect borders in two principal ways, one “legal” and the other completely otherwise.

So-called legal border crossings are claimed as a right by international corporations. According to its free enterprise principles, Wal-Mart, for example, has the right to set up shop wherever it wishes, regardless of any resulting impact on local merchants, farmers, or suppliers. Thus capitalists claim license to cross into Mexico in pursuit of profit. They legalize their border crossing by signing agreements like NAFTA with their rich Mexican counterparts.

Meanwhile, workers (the second key factor in the capitalist equation) who are impoverished by “free trade” enjoy no similar entitlements. For them, borders are supposed to be sacrosanct, even though the boundaries prevent them from imitating the rich by serving their own economic interests – in their case, by emigrating to wherever the availability of good wages dictates.

Workers everywhere intuitively recognize the double standard at work here. So they defiantly cross borders without permission.

The other disrespect for borders on the part of the rich is more insidious. It takes the form of their own defiant transgression of international law by crossing borders to drop bombs on poor people wherever and whenever they wish, without formal declaration of war. (Imagine if poor countries claimed that right vis a vis their wealthy counterparts!) In the so-called “war on terror,” borders have become completely meaningless.

The point is that we “Americans” need to re-examine our attitudes towards borders and border walls. Borders, after all, are not sacred to the rich. Never have been. So why should rich corporatists expect workers and refugees from the wealthy’s destructive and illegal border-crossings to respect boundaries the elite have drawn so arbitrarily and violated so cavalierly?

Mr. Trump, tear down that wall!

God Throws a Party: We Americans Send Our Regrets & Build Walls

World standing idle as Palestine suffers

Readings for 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time: IS 25: 6-10A; PS 23: 1-6; PHIL 4: 12-14, 19-20; MT 22: 1-14

Of course, we’re all aware of our planet’s Great Migration Crisis. The fact is, there are more refugees roaming the earth than at any time since the Second Inter-Capitalist War (1939-’45). As everyone knows, the crisis stems from a combination of climate change, wars, and a failed economic system that concentrates wealth in the Global North and poverty in the Global South.

So the poor migrate from coastal cities threatened by rising sea levels and devastating hurricanes and wildfires. They move from poor countries (like Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Ethiopia) where their simple homes have been bombed by the rich. Refugees travel at great risk from Central America and Mexico, where U.S. wars (drug and otherwise) have over a period of 40 years created graveyards, chaos and gang cultures.

Others as economic refugees, simply follow the logic of U.S.-imposed “free trade” agreements and move to where the money is. However, they must risk their lives to do so. That’s because the anti-labor agreements allow corporations to move South to make a killing where labor costs are lower. But the same agreements make it illegal for workers to move North where wages are higher.

Meanwhile, the response of the rich who have bombed and otherwise devastated the habitats of the migrants, is to intensify the bombing, build walls, and repeal laws that might bring climate chaos under control.

For me, the controversy raises questions about borders and flags. After all, borders are entirely human creations. And flags are only colored pieces of cloth.

Neither originates from God or Nature’s order. In fact, if we rid ourselves of both borders and flags, that wouldn’t only mitigate immigration problems. Most of the world’s other international problems would diminish and possibly disappear.

Though difficult for many Americans to accept, such reflections shouldn’t puzzle followers of Jesus or those who subscribe to the biblical vision of God’s Kingdom. We should take for granted that the earth belongs to everyone, and that each one of us has a right to 1/7th billionth of the earth’s produce. That would make each of us very rich indeed.

Today’s liturgy of the word supports that biblical vision. In fact, it makes five relevant points about it:

  • The People of God comprise not just a single nation or religion, but all the peoples of the earth – especially the poor and marginalized.
  • God’s arrangement for those people (eventually called the “Kingdom of God”) is abundance of food, wine, and every good thing the earth has to offer.
  • The world’s poor majority is more receptive to that vision than the rich minority.
  • In fact, the rich generally choose to exclude themselves from God’s utopian order.
  • Regrettably, their choice is self-destructive.

To get those points, begin by considering that first selection from Isaiah. There six hundred years before Jesus, the prophet describes what God holds in store for all the wretched of the earth as God’s favorites. In Isaiah’s context, God promised abundance for political prisoners then experiencing painful exile in Babylon. In Isaiah’s phrasing, God wants cornucopian plenty not only for them, but “for all peoples.”

No harps and clouds here; no abstract heaven. Instead, Isaiah envisions God’s kingdom coalescing here on earth, in a particular place – on “this Mountain” (referring to the exiles’ motherland). There God’s Kingdom will take the form of a huge celebratory picnic – an outdoor feast of incomparable affluence. On God’s mountain, all will engorge themselves, Isaiah promises, “with rich foods” and cups overflowing with “choice wines.” The prophet repeats the phrase twice for emphasis: “a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.”

The feast will be a celebration of Enlightenment – of revelation or removal of the “veils” or barriers that separate human beings one from another. Isaiah predicts: “On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever. The Lord God will wipe away the tears from every face; the reproach of his people he will remove from the whole earth.”

Once again, notice this promise is inclusive. It is directed to “all peoples,” not to a single nation. It is addressed to suffering and exiled people who find themselves in a “web” of death, tears and blame caused by deceptive divisions into nation states. That sounds pretty relevant to the immigrants I was just talking about.

The theme of God’s all-inclusive, life-giving kindness is reinforced in today’s responsorial – the familiar Psalm 23, which begins, “The Lord is my shepherd.” According to the psalmist, God is the one who fulfills everyone’s desire for food and water, wine and oil for cooking. In addition, God provides rest, refreshment, and guidance. The courage God gives removes fear of evil and threat. All of that should be music to the ears of the world’s hyper-threatened poor and deprived.

In today’s second reading Paul touches a similar chord. From an imperial prison (perhaps like Abu Ghraib), he writes, “God will fully supply whatever you need in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”

And that brings us to this Sunday’s Gospel selection. It’s a parable underlining the surprising, world-contradicting inclusiveness of God’s chosen people. The parable is addressed to the “elders and chief priests,” the political leaders of Jesus’ day who thought of themselves as God’s elect. The tale ends with the familiar tagline, “Many are called, but few are chosen.” But mystifyingly, its point seems to be the opposite: “The few are called, and the many end up being chosen.”

I mean today’s gospel is Matthew’s account of Jesus’ parable about a king inviting his rich friends (the few) to his son’s wedding feast. It’s a party characterized by abundance reminiscent of “the juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines” in today’s first reading.

In the story, that feast is already prepared. But the king’s rich friends exclude themselves from its extravagance, preferring instead the pursuit of their individualistic pleasures and profits. Some are so ungrateful that they mistreat and even kill those proffering the king’s invitation. All of this, of course, is Matthew’s thinly veiled reference to the way Jewish leaders treated God’s messengers, the prophets whose line for Matthew culminates in Jesus of Nazareth.

Thinly veiled as well is Matthew’s reference to the destruction of Jerusalem a generation earlier in the year 70. Matthew writes, “The king was enraged and sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.” According to Matthew, then, Jerusalem’s fate was the karmic result of the rich and powerful dishonoring prophets like Jesus and refusing to enter God’s kingdom with the poor and oppressed.

It is at this point that Matthew (and presumably Jesus) makes the point about the majority generally excluded from access to the world’s wealth. The king says, “’the feast is ready, but those who were invited were not worthy to come. Go out, therefore, into the main roads and invite to the feast whomever you find.’ The servants went out into the streets and gathered all they found, bad and good alike, and the hall was filled with guests.”

There you have it: God’s New People are the dregs of humanity – the good and bad alike.” That’s the very point Jesus’ parables have been making for the past few weeks: Prostitutes and tax collectors enter God’s kingdom before the “chief priests and elders of the people.” The earth (and God’s Kingdom) belong to everyone, national borders notwithstanding.

But wait; there’s more.

At this government-provided feast of free food, choice alcoholic beverages, and even (it seems) free festive clothing, one person insists on differentiating himself from the rest. He refuses to change his clothes – always a literary (and liturgical) marker for change of lifestyle. At bottom, it’s a refusal to identify with the street people particularly dear to God’s heart.

And that’s the parable’s point. The rich (and those who identify with them) simply don’t want to mingle with the desperate masses like the refugees and migrants we’ve been talking about. They want salvation only for themselves. And that’s suicidal.

To reiterate:

  • The People of God comprise not just a single nation or religion, but all the peoples of the earth – especially the poor and marginalized.
  • God’s arrangement for those people is abundance of food, wine, and every good thing the earth has to offer.
  • The world’s poor majority is more receptive to that vision than the rich minority.
  • In fact, the rich generally choose to exclude themselves from God’s utopian order.
  • Regrettably, their choice is self-destructive.

In other words, everyone ends up being called. The choice of accepting God’s invitation is up to us.

Given the Great Refugee Crisis, how do you think this applies to Americans and our response to the refugee crisis?

(Discussion follows)